How to Keep Your Cool When Your Kids Get the Gimmes

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It's easy to get the gimmes this time of year. On a recent trip to Toys R Us for birthday gifts for friends, my kids and I found ourselves lost in the holiday displays thinking about birthday lists and Christmas lists and gifts for cousins. We also empathized with more than one teary-eyed toddler. It's hard to walk through a store full of potential only to be told “no” in response to every query. Tears of frustration are a logical response in the moment.

The holiday season is a busy one and kids are surrounded by bright lights and shiny new toys every which way they turn. And it doesn't stop there. Chocolate, candy canes, and holiday cookies line the aisles of every store.

The holiday season can be over-stimulating and, quite frankly, a set-up for tantrums and disappointment. It's hard on little ones and their parents.

While preparing kids for events and setting limits before you leave the house can help reduce some of the “I wants”, it's also important for parents to learn how to keep their cool. Sometimes it seems as if we completely forget what it feels like to be a child the moment we become parents. It serves parents well to tap into their inner child and empathize with their kids during this fun but overwhelming time of year.

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Learn how to breathe.

I spend a considerable amount of time teaching parents to teach their kids how to use relaxation breathing, but the truth is that many parents need to learn the same. It's hard to remain calm when our kids trigger us, but if we want to model appropriate frustration tolerance skills to our children, we have to use appropriate skills when the going gets tough.

Check out the Stop, Think & Breathe App for some help in the art of practicing mindfulness (this is great for kids and teens, too!) The best time to practice relaxation breathing is when you are calm. As I tell parents over and over again, it's nearly impossible to exist in a state of anger or panic when you calm your senses through breathing. Take the time to learn this essential stress buster – it's a game changer.

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Think like a kid.

I know, I know, we all want to raise respectful, capable and happy kids. And fun stuff is supposed to make kids happy, right? Wrong. Fun stuff can be fun, but it can also be too much. Parents have a tendency to pack in too much stuff during the holiday season.

Try to step back from lifelong memory making for a moment and think like your child. One of my kids can only handle so much excitement, for example, so I avoid packing in too much stuff for him. He needs plenty of unstructured playtime to recharge after an outing, and that is always a priority for me.

Understand your child's limits and start there. Consider the possible triggers of meltdowns and “gimme” behavior and plan accordingly. Kids are more likely to get stuck in the “I want” zone when they are tired, hungry, or bored.

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Empathize.

It's okay to want stuff and dream about holiday wish lists. That's part of being a kid! Empathize with your kids when they show signs of frustration. Talk them through and share your own experiences as a child. More often than not, kids simply need to feel heard and understood.

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Create a wish list.

I always let my kids use my phone to snap pictures of cool toys or books they might want to add to their birthday or holiday lists. This way they can look at the pictures later and take time to think about whether or not it's something they really want.

Taking a proactive approach to decreasing the gimmes helps keep parents and kids calm during those stressful moments.

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Another favorite tip? When my kids see something fun and festive that I'm certain we don't need, we talk about whom we know that might like it. We're pretty sure Papa would love those candy cane cookies, for example. When we shift our thinking to giving to others, it reduces the focus on what we want.

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How to Keep Your Cool When Your Kids Get the Gimmes

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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